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Yumeji - Taisho Trilogy (Suzuki Seijun 1991)


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Yumeji

Genre: Taisho Era Artistic Spiral Into Madness

review in one breath

Artist Yumeji has gained fame and recognition for his skills at painting as well as notoriety for his untamed lifestyle. Despite his betrothal to a beautiful and timid young woman of high birth, his libido turns to his many female models. Despite this freedom from constraint, his lust and artistic sentiment cause him nothing but an increasing awareness of the elusive embodiment of true Beauty. While traveling he encounters a mesmerizing widow who relentlessly searches for her husband's body in the nearby lake, believing him killed at the hands of a ferocious roaming bandit. Infatuated with her beauty, he feigns to help her look for the corpse, only to unlock the mystery himself thereby sending him to further depths of debauchery and despair. This is the third and final film in director Suzuki Seijun's critically acclaimed Taisho Trilogy.


intro

This is the third film in director Suzuki Seijun's so-called Taisho Trilogy. The collection consists of the following three films:

Zigeunerweisen - 1980
Kagero-za - 1981
Yumeji - 1991

Each of these films is a highly stylized and rather epic tale taking place within the Taisho Era (1912-1926). While the period is generally characterized by political turmoil as the last vestiges of aristocracy-based governance gave way to one based of purely democratic representation, such Taisho-unique elements do no figure explicitly in any other these films. Instead, Suzuki highlights the era's emphasis upon Western education and culture, and their possible conflict with core Japanese (or more broadly, human) sensibilities. This, at least, is how these narratives are framed. But it would be quite incorrect to suggest that these films are merely explorations of cultural or individuality issues.

In all fairness, the main character here, Takahisa Yumeji, is an actual historical figure, a self-taught artist during Japan's Taisho Era. Although his paintings and drawings, which were usually of beautiful women, were deemed by his contemporary purists as rough and untrained, he found a level of popularity with the populus. And this is basically how he is portrayed in the film Yumeji, with the exception that in the film he is also depicted as libidinous, unethical and ultimately prone to madness. As to whether this describes the real Takehisa Yumeji I can find no evidence and personally doubt.

All three films in Suzuki's Taisho Trilogy examine the mental state of a Taisho Era intellectual or artisan and watch as they cross rational boundaries or spiral into a despair-filled blend of ideal and stark reality. All three can also be accurately described as "Gothic Horror", though with varying degrees of supernaturalism, with Zigeunerweisen on one extreme presenting an almost outright ghost tale and Yumeji on the other, dealing far more with a haunted conscience. Each film in the trilogy offers viewers a visual treat in terms of the elaborate Taisho Era sets and the moody cinematography. Each film also exceeds 2 hours in length allowing for a rather involved and nuanced storytelling.

Suzuki Seijun has directed 54 films during a notorious and genre-busting career stretching from 1954 to 2005. Thus Yumeji is a very late addition to Suzuki's filmography, after which he directed only four other films. (One of which was Pistol Opera.) This amounts to a very knowledgeable and experienced hand at the directorial wheel and translates into some very memorable viewing for fans of Japanese cinema.

story

In terms of storyline, the blurb I provided above provides about all you'd need to know without divulging too much of the plot twists. The trajectory I described, that of the artist Yumeji's gradual descent into madness is the primary theme, though the path by which he arrives there is filled with some rather strange characters and situations.

verdict

This is definitely a polished and well directed film. The Taisho Era setting is somewhat unique and the mood and scenery really lend to an interesting visual experience. I found this to be the least surreal of the three Taisho Trilogy films and thus, perhaps, the least praiseworthy. But even without an other-worldliness, this proves to be an entertaining and somewhat mystifying film which fans of Japanese cinema should check out.

Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Fictionalized foray into the creative mind and lifestyle of Taisho Era artist Takehisa Yumeji in one of Suzuki Seijun's final films. No Taisho carnage despite swinging scythes and tales of grisly demise. Plenty of risque talk and genital-grabbing, along with some art session erotica (Taisho style). An interesting tale depicting the spiraling mental state of a hedonistically driven artist in 1920s Japan.

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